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Blackpool Social Work and Safeguarding ServiceProcedures Manual

Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation; and Duty to Refer

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

There is a joint protocol to address the needs of homeless 16 and 17 year olds in Blackpool which aims to ensure that by working together collaboratively, social care and housing professionals will prevent homelessness for young people in Blackpool.

The experience of homelessness is damaging to young people and to their life chances: the joint Statutory Guidance states that: "it is in the best interests of most young people aged 16 or 17 to live in the family home, or, where this is not safe or appropriate, with responsible adults in their wider family and friends network".

Children's Services and Housing Options will work together on a range of early interventions to prevent the risk of homelessness being realised for young people. This Joint Protocol concerns those young people where homelessness appears not to be immediately preventable and sets out the steps that will be taken by respective professionals in Social Care, Young People's Services and Housing Options to support young people.

The Joint Protocol has been developed in compliance with legislation and guidance and outlines the joint responsibilities of the signatories to address the needs of Homeless 16 and 17 year olds in Blackpool:

Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation was first published by the Government in April 2010 following a number of judgements handed down by the House of Lords in cases concerning the interrelationship between the duty under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 ('the 1989 Act') and duties under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 ('the 1996 Act') where young people aged 16 or 17 require accommodation. The guidance was amended in 2018 to reflect new duties introduced through the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 ('the 2017 Act'), and to incorporate other relevant updates.

Links to Statutory Guidance:

  • Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation (2018): This guidance is solely concerned with the functions of children's services and housing services when young people seek help from, or are referred to, local authorities because of homelessness or being threatened with homelessness. It incorporates judgements made in the House of Lords over several years around the duties of local authorities under Section 20 (Children Act 1989) and Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. The guidance also reflects the duties introduced under the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017);
  • Homelessness - Duty to Refer: the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) places a duty on specified public authorities to refer service users who they think may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to local authority homelessness/housing options teams. The guidance provides helpful information and detail on the referral process which is brought out in additional links below.

Legal Framework

'Homeless' in relation to Housing Services refers to Section 175 of the Housing Act 1996. Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 outlines the legal responsibilities of a District or Borough Council in terms of assisting people who approach the housing authority as homeless.

16 and 17 year old homeless applicants have a priority need for accommodation, except those who are:

  • A relevant child;
  • A child in need who is owed a duty under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

"The primary responsibility for a child in need who requires accommodation, including a 16 and 17 year old who is homeless lies with the relevant Children's Services authority. The Children Act 1989 (Section 20) places a duty on Children's Services authorities to accommodate a child in need, and in almost all circumstances a homeless 16-17 year old would be a child in need.

However, there remain circumstances when the housing authority will have duties towards a homeless 16 and 17 year olds, including when the young person, having been fully informed of the implications, and being judged to have capacity to make that decision, declines to become Looked After under the Children Act and instead applies for assistance under homelessness legislation."

(Homeless Code of Guidance 2018) 'Requiring accommodation' in relation to Children's Services refers to Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in July 2021 to add a link to Joint Housing Protocols for Care Leavers: Good Practice Advice (DfE and MHCLG). The publication seeks to support the development of joint protocols that can help local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of care leavers (see new Section 4, Housing Protocols for Care Leavers).

Contents

  1. Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 Year Old Young People who may be Homeless and/or Require Accommodation
  2. Homelessness: Duty to Refer
  3. Homelessness: Code of Guidance - Referral Process
  4. Housing Protocols for Care Leavers
  5. Further Information

1. Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 Year Old Young People who may be Homeless and/or Require Accommodation

See: Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 Year Olds who may be Homeless and/or Require Accommodation.

Young people may become homeless for a variety of reasons. However, family breakdown, mental health concerns and unemployment are often major contributing factors to this. 16 and 17 year olds who are homeless or threatened with homelessness are likely to be vulnerable and will often be at risk of harm in the absence of intervention. Safeguarding and promoting their welfare should be central to service provision. It is therefore essential that children's services and housing services work together to plan and provide services that are centred on young people and their families, and prevent young people from being passed back and forth between services.

Before a young person becomes homeless it is important to act quickly in the event that a young person expresses concern about the security of their home. If a young person aged 16/17 approaches housing options for advice and support and there are no known safeguarding issues, they will contact Targeted Intervention Services (TIS). A worker from TIS will accompany the young person home and explore the concerns in the family home with a view to ensuring that any support, such as mediation, can be arranged promptly and prevent family breakdown.

If a young person is already known to and working with Social Care or Targeted Intervention Services and they become concerned about the security of their home, their allocated worker should actively seek to work with the young person and their family to ensure there is no disruption to their accommodation. If the young person is at risk of homelessness, the allocated worker can access specialist mediation through Housing Needs if required.

The parents of, or those with parental responsibility for, 16 and 17 year olds are responsible for their children's welfare. Our primary commitment is to keep families together in their homes, or the homes of other wider family members, wherever possible and safe because this is best for the young person.

There is excellent early intervention and preventative work taking place at a local level which sits outside of the Joint Protocol. For most young people, staying in their family home (with support where needed) is usually the best outcome for them.

Young people aged 16 or 17 are still children and that as such, all agencies have duties and responsibilities to act together to protect them if they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. The safety and welfare of the young person is paramount in the application of the protocol.

Young people should be supported by the people working with them to understand the options available to them so that they can make informed choices about their future. Young people should be kept informed throughout the process about what decisions are being made by professionals and fully engaged in the assessment of and planning to address their needs.

The Joint Assessment will fully involve the young person and their family where it safe and appropriate to do so, consider the young person's wishes and determine the most appropriate pathway for the young person taking into account the legislative context and statutory guidance. Housing Options and Social Care will work together to undertake the assessment, which will usually include speaking with the young person (with the support of an advocate if required), visiting the family home and speaking with family members, and talking with any relevant professionals who are working with the young person or their family.

How we work with young people and their families within the Joint Assessment is important. A restorative relationship, one which is open and honest and built on mutual respect and trust, allows both high support and high challenge. It provides a foundation to ensure that professionals are working in partnership "with" parents, carers and families to appropriately meet their needs, and that this is taking place in a safe way.

The principles of restorative practice, doing with, not to or for, allow families to work alongside professionals to honestly identify areas of strength and weakness, areas which may need change, and to develop plans which the family are supportive of, and willing to engage with.

Assessments undertaken with families will allow for families to self-identify where they see there may be need for change or support, as well as areas where they consider their strengths to be. Alongside this practitioners should challenge families if they don't agree with their assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. This will allow for an agreed assessment of the family and any potential risks for children and young people.

If a homeless 16/17 year old contacts Children's Social Care (via the Blackpool Families Rock Request for Support Hub) and they do not have an allocated social worker, the contact will be passed to the Assessment and Support Team (AST) to initiate a joint assessment of need with Housing Options. If the young person has a social worker, that worker will undertake the joint assessment with Housing Options.

For the purposes of the Joint Assessment, by 16, we mean children who have finished their school year. Prior to this point young people would need to be assessed not under the Joint Protocol but via a Children and Family Assessment (CAFA) in Children's Social Care. However Mediation services are still available to support the undertaking of the CAFA.

If emergency accommodation is required on the same night that the young person makes contact, in the first instance Housing Options will attempt to place them in suitable young person's emergency accommodation, irrespective of which agency were first approached. If Housing Options are unable to place them anywhere other than in B&B accommodation, they will liaise with the Children's Services Placement Team to help to secure appropriate accommodation for the period of the assessment of need.

If there is no suitable accommodation and arrangements need to be made under Section 20 of the Children's Act, the young person must consent. If there is no explicit consent and a placement is being considered using Section 17 of the Children's Act 1989, authorisation must be sought from the Assistant Director of Children's Services or a delegated Head of Service before the arrangements are made.

Decisions as to which agency assumes or maintains ongoing responsibility to provide accommodation will be dependent on the outcome and recommendations of the Joint Assessment process and should be reached within ten working days.

If a 16 or 17 year old woman is pregnant or has a child or children of her own, Children's Services' duties will be determined towards each of them individually. The Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire Children's Safeguarding Assurance Partnership (CSAP) Multi-Agency Pre-Birth Protocol should be followed if relevant.

If a young person is in a relationship with an older person, only duties towards the 16 or 17 year old will be considered under the protocol.

Children's Social Care and the Housing Options Team will work together to conclude the determination of duties under the Children Act 1989 and Housing Act 1996. Where there are duties to assist, they will put in place a suitable package of assistance which reflects the young person's wishes and feelings, is realistic, and which will best assist the young person in moving on to independence (including retaining supportive social and family networks, plans for education, training and work).

In all decisions, consideration must be given to the wishes and feelings of the young person. It is possible for an assessment to determine that a young person is eligible for accommodation and support under Section 20 of the Children's Act 1989 and for the young person to decline this and make an informed decision to accept support under Section 17 of the Children's Act or under homelessness legislation. It is important that practitioners have ensured that the young person is aware of their entitlements to leaving care services before their decision in such matters can be considered to be informed.

If at any point in the assessment or following the assessment those working with the young person become aware that the young person is at risk of harm (if, for example, they disclose that they have been or are being exploited or abused) then workers should follow the Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire Children's Safeguarding Assurance Partnership (CSAP) Procedures. The young person must be informed of this duty, though their consent is not required. Allegations of violence and abuse will be taken seriously and the Children's Services Safeguarding Procedures followed before any contact is made with the alleged perpetrator(s).

Actions following the outcome of the Joint Assessment

If a duty is owed under Section 17 AND Section 20 applies, Children's Social Care will:

  • Discuss the assessment outcomes and options for the future with the young person, ensuring that they can make a fully-informed decision on whether to accept the offer of assistance under Section 20;
  • In the case of an exceptionally vulnerable young person, discuss with the relevant Children's Services placement team regarding the availability of foster or residential care options.

Housing Options will:

  • Issue a decision letter to the young person:
    • If the young person is still within the relief duty and has accepted S20, then a decision will be issued ending the relief duty due to them having accommodation available;
    • If the decision on S20 is reached whilst the main housing duty is being assessed a non-priority decision letter will be issued due to them having Looked After child status.
  • If the young person has previously been placed in emergency accommodation by the Housing Options Team, notify the benefits team that housing benefit entitlement has ceased, and the proprietor/host that invoices should be directed to Children's Services from this point on.

If the young person accepts the offer of assistance under Section 20, Children's Social Care will:

  • Inform any referring agency;
  • Arrange a placement in suitable accommodation, or arrange to taking over financial responsibility for the young person's accommodation if they have previously been placed by the Housing Options Team;
  • Put in place a care plan and allocated social worker for the young person in accordance with Children in Our Care procedures.

If the young person does not accept the offer of assistance under Section 20 Children's Social Care and Housing Options will:

  • Assess the capability of the young person to make this decision;
  • Children's Social Care will review the young person's holistic needs and whether they require on-going support under Section 17, and refer the young person with their consent to Blackpool Young People's Service to access support;
  • Housing Options will inform the proprietor or host if the young person has been placed in emergency accommodation of the date the authority will cease payment, and treat the young person's application in the same way as if a duty is owed under Section 17 but Section 20 does not apply (see below).

If no duty is owed under Section 17 (note that there will be very few instances where a homeless young person or a young person threatened with homelessness would not be a child in need), Housing Options will treat the young person's application in the same way as if a duty is owed under Section 17 but Section 20 does not apply (see below).

If a duty is owed under Section 17 BUT Section 20 does NOT apply (this will usually be because the young person is not homeless or the young person has refused S20 assistance) the Housing Options Team will:

  • Determine duties owed under Housing Act 1996;
  • If the young person is still in need of accommodation, assist the young person in completing their application for housing benefit if they have been occupying an emergency accommodation placement;
  • Ensure that the young person is aware that if there is a change in circumstances and the young person subsequently becomes homeless, they should approach the team for a re assessment.

If a duty is found to assist under the Housing Act 1996 the Housing Options Team will:

  • Follow local Housing Authority procedures for interim/temporary accommodation and eventual discharge of duty;
  • If applicable liaise with Children's Social Care about the young person's support needs.

If no duty is found to assist under the Housing Act (for instance, if the young person is found to be intentionally homeless) the Housing Options Team will:

  • Follow local procedures to end emergency accommodation (if any) allowing the young person a reasonable time to make alternative arrangements;
  • Discuss the decision and the young person's future housing circumstances with Children's Social Care (if no relationship currently exists with Children's Services) and, if necessary re-refer the young person for further assessment. If a relationship with Children's Services already exists, they will discuss the decision with the lead professional or allocated Social Worker.

2. Homelessness: Duty to Refer

See: A guide to the duty to refer.

In October 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into effect and provided new duties on local housing authorities to intervene at an earlier stage in order to reduce the risk of homelessness.

The guide to the duty to refer identifies a person is considered homeless if:

  • They do not have any accommodation which is available for them which they have a legal right to occupy; or
  • It is not reasonable for the person to occupy their current accommodation, for example, because they would be at risk of domestic abuse.

3. Homelessness: Code of Guidance - Referral Process

See: Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities.

This guidance advises that the service user must:

  1. Consent to the referral being completed in the first place;
  2. Allow the individual to identify the housing authority in England which they would like the notification to be sent to;
  3. Have consent from the individual for their contact details to be supplied so the housing authority can contact them regarding the referral.

Local authorities should make the referral process transparent on their websites and should also make the referral process as simple as possible. See: Duty to refer: Referral Form. The referral should be sent to the following e-mail address: dutytorefer@blackpool.gov.uk.

4. Housing Protocols for Care Leavers

See: Joint Housing Protocols for Care Leavers: good practice advice (DfE and MHCLG).

See also: Leaving Care and Transition Procedure.

5. Further Information

Guidance for NHS trusts and foundation trusts providing emergency departments, urgent treatment centres and inpatient services

Local Government Association – Homelessness

Centre Point – Are you Homeless, Sofa Surfing or At Risk?

Land Aid – Young & Homeless

Care leavers accommodation and support framework, St. Basils